May Miscellany


Last Sunday, we went to hear John Lithgow speak at the Kennedy Library. I had forgotten how many roles he’s played in movies and on TV: Terms of Endearment, Shrek, Third Rock From the Sun, and most recently, Winston Churchill in The Crown. As you might expect, Lithgow is an engaging raconteur. I especially enjoyed hearing his childhood memories of Yellow Springs, a small village near Dayton. “It was idyllic,” he said, “a midwest idyll.” He recalled trips to the Glen Helen Nature Preserve and Clifton Gorge, places my dad still visits. One of the most interesting things he told the audience is that, as a child, Coretta Scott was his babysitter – before she was Coretta Scott King. Yellow Springs is the home of Antioch College where Scott was a student. Lithgow said that he only learned of his famous babysitter as an adult when he met Mrs. King at a function.

Lithgow also talked about writing children’s books, telling the large crowd that he enjoyed making up stories for his younger sister when they were growing up. Later, when he had his own children, he wrote music for his son which led to a performance of children’s music and stories at Carnegie Hall. Lithgow was honest about capitalizing on his “Third Rock fame” to indulge his many interests, but what came through most clearly was his love of the written word in all its forms.

Yesterday, my husband and I were in Westport, Massachusetts where we found The Partners Village Store, a combination bookstore, gift shop, and cafe. While the bookstore is small, it is carefully curated.

I found a book of essays that is right in my “interest sweet spot.”  Where We Lived is by Henry Allen, who, I learned from the book, was “Intense. Mercurial. Bearded. A Marine veteran of Vietnam.” He was an art critic for The Washington Post for nearly 30 years and won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2000. This book includes short essays about the many places the Allen family has lived, beginning in 1557 in Wales through his family’s 1977 move to Takoma Park in Maryland. I am interested in exploring how place informs our identity, and I happily added Allen’s book to the toppling stack by my bedside.

You may have heard about the upcoming PBS series, The Great American Read. I’ve heard it advertised on NPR, but only checked out the website today. It’s an eight-part series that “explores and celebrates the power of reading, told through the prism of America’s best-loved novels (as chosen in a national survey).”  I’m all for a program that celebrates books and reading, but the list of 100 novels raises questions for me. There are obvious choices like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Charlotte’s Web, but the list also includes Fifty Shades of Grey and The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks.  I can’t wrap my head around Tom Sawyer being compared to Fifty Shades of Grey. It seems wrong for Wilbur and Charlotte to compete with The Shack by William Young.  I plan to tune in and assume right will prevail in the end!

Here’s a link to the whole list:

Last week, I read Bob, the new middle grade novel by two of the most respected and talented authors of children’s books – Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass.

It’s the story of a girl named Livy who, five years before the story opens, left a little creature named Bob at her grandmother’s house in Australia. Now ten-years-old, Livy returns to visit her grandmother and finds Bob in a closet where he has been looking forward to seeing her again. Livy has nearly forgotten the details of her first trip to Australia, but she quickly reconnects with the lovable Bob and agrees to help him figure out who he is and where he’s from. Told in alternating chapters from Bob’s and Livy’s points of view, it’s a sweet story of friendship and magic.

The best new picture book I read last week is Doll-E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskey. If you know a fan of Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, this would be a good book to check out of the library. Charlotte is a tech-saavy kid. She helps her parents with their devices, and her bedroom looks like she’s planning to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. But Charlotte’s mom and dad begin to be concerned that their daughter is “too techy” so they buy her a doll. The doll seems like any other low-tech doll, but Charlotte makes a few changes that make her – and her parents – happy.

Finally, some of Inly’s younger students have discovered the Dog Man books…..

Happy Reading!






The First Sign of Spring – New Books!

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Flowers may not be blooming yet, but spring in the book publishing world means early March. The first flowers have pages rather than petals!

Here are five standout new picture books –

Franny’s Father Is a Feminist by Rhonda Leet

A sweet story about Franny, a little girl whose father knows that “girls can do anything boys can do.”  The cheery cartoon-like illustrations by Megan Walker add to the spirit of this book about what it means to be a feminist. Franny enjoys taking her bicycle apart and putting it back together, going fishing with her dad, playing hockey, and going to ballet class.  Her father supports all of her interests – and teaches her about Sally Ride and Malala. A fun book for young feminists and their dads!

The Boy and the Whale by Mordecai Gerstein

Over the past year and a half, there has been a necessary and responsive emphasis on children’s books that foster empathy in young readers. The Boy and the Whale, Gerstein’s new picture book which was published late last year is a good one to add to your collection of books that convey courage and sacrifice. In a setting that looks to be someplace in Latin America, a boy and his father lose their only fishing net when a whale becomes tangled in it. Although his father is understandably concerned about the net, the boy is determined to save the whale.  At great risk, the boy uses his fishing knife to free the giant whale. The pictures add to the dramatic intensity – and, of course, there is a happy ending.

Florette by Anna Walker

There are moments when I’m opening a new picture book, that I’m brought back to the joy I felt as a child when a character leapt right into my heart. That’s the response I had to Florette. Mae, the little girl at the center of the story, misses her garden after her family moves to the city: “Mae missed playing with her friends, listening to the birds in the apple trees, and gathering things for her treasure jar.” Ultimately, she finds a plant shop called Florette and new friends to share her love for the natural world. Beginning with the beautiful endpapers, Florette is a magical book about learning to grow in a new place.

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima

Jessie Sima, the author of Not Quite Narwhal, has written another picture book that begs to be read aloud. Harriet is not the kind of child who wears a costume only on October 31. She “wore costumes all the time.”  The opening pages show Harriet in a dentist chair wearing a dinosaur costume and at the laundromat dressed as a ghost. On the day of her birthday party, she and her two dads go to the grocery store where Harriet is literally carried away by a group of penguins buying ice. In her fantasy (or is it real!), she follows the penguins happily at first before realizing she wants to go back home for her birthday party.  The large format cartoon-like illustrations make this the perfect book for sharing with a group of young children.

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon by Annette Bay Pimentel

The only nonfiction book on my list (so far), Girl Running is the true story of Bobbi Gibb who, in 1966, became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. This was an unfamiliar story to me – and it’s an incredible one. When Gibb requested an official application for the Marathon, she received a letter stating: “…Women are not physiologically able to run twenty-six miles and furthermore the rules do not allow it.” Bobbi Gibb ran anyway and finished in three hours and twenty minutes. Micha Archer’s collage-style illustrations enhance and extend the story, especially with the clever mile markers at the bottom of the page. An inspiring story for young athletes. I’m going to save this book for a read aloud during the week leading up to the Boston Marathon.

The picture at the top of the post is of a beautiful glass object sitting on a window sill at Fallingwater, the house Frank Lloyd Wright designed in the mid-1930s. A house with spectacular views both inside and outside, and yet, the thing I loved the most was this glass. I’m off on another adventure – no blog post next weekend. But I’ll return with more pictures of beautiful things that I see along the way.

Happy Reading!


Nor’easter Photo Edition….

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Mother Nature got in the way of my regular Sunday posts. Our power was restored yesterday and we spent last evening clearing out the refrigerator and grocery shopping. Once again, the natural world reminded us of who’s really in charge!

Until Sunday when I can write something more substantive, here are a few pictures to enjoy:

I put the back page of the New York Times monthly kids’ section up in the library with an invitation to add to it.  Here are responses from Inly 6th graders:

Over the past week, including some disruptions from the nor’easter, the Inly Players put on a joyous and colorful production of Seussical. This event was Inly’s twelfth annual show produced by theater professionals and cast from students and community volunteers. Inspired by Dr. Seuss, the Lower Elementary students designed fantastical creatures to decorate the hallway:

In anticipation of the upcoming spring break, we have encouraged the students to check out lots of books. It’s a scary thing, I warned them, to be at home or on vacation without a pile of good books to read. Here are some of the browsers making big decisions:

I have lots of new books to look at over the next couple of days so check back on Sunday.

Happy Reading!


The Newbery Award and Recommendations for a Town Read…


You may have heard that Erin Entrada Kelly’s middle grade novel, Hello, Universe, won the Newbery Medal last week for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature. Although I had read glowing reviews and the book was on the school library shelves, I had not yet read it. Of course, I regretted that it was not at the top of my list, but no time for looking back – I had a book to read!  Hello, Universe centers on four middle school students, each of them a little lonely and different from most of the other kids at school. As you can probably guess, the fates bring them together – but not in a way that you see coming. It’s a horrible act by the bully of the bunch that sets things in motion, resulting in a fast-paced, well plotted novel.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about the book is the relationship between the main character, Virgil Salinas, a quiet Filipino-American boy, and his grandmother who tells him Filipino folk tales. When things go badly for Virgil, he recalls his grandmother’s stories, and they lead him out of a dark place (literally) and help him become more confident.

As much as I enjoyed Hello, Universe, I have mixed feelings about the the three Newbery Honor books: Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut written by Derrick Barnes, Long Way Down, written by Jason Reynolds, and Piecing Me Together, written by Renée Watson.  Crown is a fabulous picture book about the central role the barber shop plays in the lives of young black boys. Long Way Down and Piecing Me Together are young adult novels. Jason Reynolds, the author of Long Way Down, is one of the most important and honored writers for young people today. His books deservedly win awards and appear on countless “best of the year” lists.  I wrote School Library Journal’s starred review for his middle grade novel, Patina, and was hopeful that book would be honored by the Newbery committee.

My disappointment is not about recognizing Long Way Down, Crown, or Piecing Me Together, but the Newbery Award gives school librarians an opportunity to highlight books for our middle grade readers.  As the calendar drew closer to the Newbery announcement, I anticipated displaying three or four middle grade novels that I could encourage kids to read. The shiny sticker really helps!  My fingers were crossed for Patina, Orphan Island, See You in the Cosmos, Beyond the Bright Sea, The War I Finally Won, or even one of the many outstanding nonfiction books published this year.

Although I can’t recommend Long Way Down or Piecing Me Together to 4th and 5th grade readers, I will definitely recommend them to our middle school students. On to next year….

The middle school students are currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird and, as part of their work, they also read an article about cities and towns that participate in “one town, one book” programs, many of which select Harper Lee’s classic to spark civic conversations.  I assigned short papers to my students asking them to make a case for either To Kill a Mockingbird – or another title – to be their town’s book.

If you’re looking for recommendations for yourself – or for your town read – here are excerpts from their suggestions:

El Deafo by Cece Bell, would be the perfect town read for Scituate, Massachusetts. The fascinating story of a young girl who tries to balance her childhood and early teen years with her deafness, touches on topics people all ages in the Scituate society need to learn or further understand. For example some of the things this book include real first world problems, people with disabilities and how they are treated. The book is additionally in graphic novel form so it will be accessible for younger citizens to stay interested while learning, and an interesting shift for older citizens who are already reading regular novels in school and on their own.

Everyone knows that when you read, your vocabulary and language grows. A perfect book to nurture that growth is The Thickety. The Thickety, a fantasy by the author J. A. White, is a tale fraught with magic and adventure. The Thickety would be a great book for the adolescent and adult readers of Scituate and the book would be the new town buzz because of the amazing text that dances gracefully off the page.  White uses rich language and descriptions to fabricate the fantasy of The Thickety into an emulation of reality. Furthermore, the characters are relatable and they overcome obstacles, especially the main character Kara and her brother Taff. The book also addresses many events in life such as family loss and grappling with the concept of identity….the book´s magic is so powerful that the tale of The Thickety fills up three superb books that weave the story of Kara and Taff.

In today’s political, social, and academic climate, many people of diverse backgrounds and age believe that knowledge is power. I think that The Giver by Lois Lowry should be Hingham’s all town reading book. Because Hingham is mostly a wealthy, white, suburban town, The Giver would be a perfect book to demonstrate the breaking of conformity. Throughout The Giver, individuality, conformity, and deception are important themes. This book will definitely draw in teenage readers, specifically for the “breaking the system” aspect of the plot. The Giver also appeals to adults who are thinking about the future of our world. In addition to how interesting and entertaining the plot of The Giver is, this novel in particular makes people realize the importance of diversity and individuality. When we think about all of the injustices and catastrophes in world, this novel makes us think about if we how far we would go for peace. For example, would we sacrifice our freedom of appearance, hobbies, and language for the chance to possibly eliminate bullying? Would we sacrifice the joy of love or family to never have to experience heartbreak or divorce? 

And a picture….

I was in Woods Hole yesterday, and we parked near the town library. It looks like a library out of a storybook…

Happy Reading!

Paris, Mystery Boxes, Cherry Blossoms, and Jenny Kroik…

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It’s a rainy Sunday, a perfect day for reading – and writing about reading. My current book is The Mistress of Paris by Catherine Hewitt.  I know – it sounds like the title of a paperback romance, the kind I used to find stacked in my grandmother’s bookcase. But it’s not. Hewitt’s book is a biography of Comtesse Valtesse de la Bigne who was among other things: the subject of a painting by Manet, the inspiration for a novel by Zola, and made a countess by Napoleon III.

There are many other books in my “to read” pile, and arguably some that I should have chosen before this one. But I needed something different, a break from my reading list. I purchased Hewitt’s book about a year ago after reading a good review, but it has been sitting on the shelf since then. The other day, feeling the need to leave the contemporary world behind and enter a different time and place, I picked it up, and I’m now happily reading about the Paris theater world in the late 19th century.

Back in this world, one of my students did a cool project this week. Inspired by the novel Fish In a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Jake asked if he could plan something for our writing class based on an activity in Hunt’s novel. “Each group will be given a shoe box wrapped in elastic bands with a mystery object inside,” the teacher in the novel tells his class. “Your job is to guess what the mystery object is.” Jake certainly knew I could never turn down a book-based project, so the next day, he brought in four boxes, put us in groups, and explained our task. It was great. The other students really enjoyed it, and there were some awesome guesses about what turned out to be a cork, an egg, a bar of soap, and a pencil.

It’s grey and cold outside, but beautiful with a hint of springtime in the Library. Thanks to Inly’s art teacher, our students made carp fish and origami cherry blossoms for the Library. This was part of our collaborative project during which we read Japanese stories during Library visits and the kids made brightly colored fish during art class.

I’ve become a bit obsessed with Instagram, not about posting my own pictures, but in following others. Facebook has never been a temptation, but I love the quick scroll of Instagram, especially while I’m waiting in a long line at the CVS pharmacy or while taking a 15-minute lunch break at school. It’s fun to see what my friends are reading and celebrating, but Instagram has actually become a tool of my work. Publishers use it to promote new books and authors share pieces of their work, but it’s the bookstores that are my favorites. It’s a great way to (quickly) see what’s being read and talked about. I now follow over 50 bookstores around the world, and those pics give me good ideas and a wider picture of the reading world.

One of my happiest discoveries was the artist, Jenny Kroik. She doesn’t promote specific titles, but her illustrations of people browsing in bookstores, visiting art museums, and walking around New York City are wonderful. In fact, this illustration of a woman shopping in the Strand Bookstore was the cover of The New Yorker’s November 13, 2017 issue:

Recently, scrolling through Kroik’s Instagram feed, I saw this one of a little girl at Books of Wonder, the children’s bookstore in New York City. I’m sharing it here with the artist’s permission.  If you are an Instagrammer, add her to your list:

Happy Reading!

Thoughts About February….

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If I’m being honest, I will admit that books featuring black protagonists do not circulate as much as those featuring white kids. I work in a private school in a predominantly white suburban area. Most of our students and staff are white. The library has a wide range of books, and I think every student can see him or her self represented on the shelves. Over the past few years, I have looked carefully and critically at our collection to be sure that the books represent the world as it is now.  I think it does, but it requires sustained attention. The place I need to think more proactively about is not the books that come into the Inly Library, but those that go out. Our kids read many books that are “mirrors” to their lives, but not enough of the equally essential “window” books.

As mixed as I am about recognizing the accomplishments of a group of people during a designated month, it does present an opportunity. This is one of the best parts of working in a school, rather than a public, library. I can use my position as a teacher and librarian to require students to read something from a different perspective. As Gene Luen Yang, last year’s National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, wrote in his Reading Without Walls Challenge, “read a book outside your comfort zone.” We are not doing our jobs if we don’t give kids a more expansive view of the world they will inherit.

And so tomorrow morning, along with displaying books about the Winter Olympics, Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s Day, I will put about books by black writers and illustrators: Jacqueline Woodson, Andrea David Pinkney, Christopher Paul Curtis, Carole Boston Weatherford, Kadir Nelson, and many others. The kids will need to make a commitment, but so will I.  My 6th grade students are each going to read one of those books. I will initiate conversations, read to them from the wonderful new book of short profiles, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, and with them, explore ways we can all take steps out of our comfort zones.

On a completely different note….

Apparently there was an after-hours visitor in the Library last week. I left school late after a meeting one evening and was the first person in the Library the following morning. This is what I saw:

It makes me happy to think of friends from different books getting together at the end of the day. Exchanging stories, perhaps?

Five New Books and Lots of Dots…

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Last week was a good week for new books. Many of the 2018 books I most looked forward to are out in the world and ready to begin their lives of being passed from one kid (or teacher) to another.

Here are five essential and wonderful additions to library shelves:

Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood

A timely and inspiring book about 14 women whose actions resulted in a change – activists, explorers, architects, scientists, and writers. Susan Hood has written a poem about each woman, and accompanying each one is a portrait by a different illustrator. As wonderful as the poems and the subjects are, it’s the art that draws me in. The impressive group of illustrators includes Sophie Blackall and Melissa Sweet, among others.

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

The perfect browsing book for a young reader’s nightstand.  One page biographies of 40 women, some of whom are well known (Oprah Winfrey) and others who will be new (Shirley Chisolm).  All of the stories are inspiring.

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed

A picture book biography of Mae Jamison, the first African American women to travel in space. As a young child, Jamison told her supportive parents that she dreamed of going to space, and they encouraged her. One of the many reasons I love this book is that Mae’s parents are always in her corner, encouraging their bright daughter to follow her dreams. Even when others (including a teacher!) discourage her, Mae’s parents keep cheering her on: “I’m sorry Miss Bell didn’t encourage you,” Mae’s mother tells her,  “but she can’t stop you. No one can stop you. Follow your dream, Mae, and go to space.”

The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler

If you are looking for a new picture book to read aloud, this is it. The story of a digger who, along with a crane and a bulldozer, build tall buildings. But when Digger sees a small blue flower in a patch of land he should be digging up, he stops. Rather than destroying the flower, Digger cares for it, gives it water, and protects it from the wind.  Of course, “progress” does not slow down for one blue flower and it is cut down. But….the seeds remain and Digger has plans. This is a book to go on display between The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and Bulldozer Helps Out by Candace Fleming.

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz

I read this book on a train to New York this past weekend, and missed all of Rhode Island and Connecticut!  Written by the daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, this middle grade novel is based on the childhood of the author’s mother. As an adult reader, it was interesting to learn about the formative years of the woman who would marry Malcolm X. For a young reader, Betty Before X is a compelling look at how we become aware of the world around us – especially its injustices. I am going to recommend this to our upper elementary teachers to read with their classes. It’s a good portal to discussions about race and social justice.

About the dots….

The library’s current collaboration with Inly’s art teacher has resulted in some especially beautiful dots. Our elementary school students are studying Asia so we decided to join in by reading Japanese stories, origami paper folding, and brightening the Library during these grey winter days. The picture book that sparked the dots is Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity by Sarah Suzuki. Kusama is a contemporary Japanese artist who is best known for her dots and mirrors. She came to my attention only last year when I read about the Hirshorn Museum’s exhibit of her work and the “Infinity Mirror Rooms.” Suzuki’s book describes the artist’s childhood in Japan and her career as an international artist.

I shared the book with Inly’s art teacher and dots seemed the obvious response. Many of the student’s tributes to Yayoi Kusama are now hanging in the Library.

Happy Reading!